Universal pulls release of "The Hunt" following pressure from Trump, Fox News

A controversy has emerged over Universal's decision to pull the release of its horror satire, "The Hunt"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 11, 2019 2:00PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Zach Gibson)
(Getty/Zach Gibson)

A controversy has erupted over Universal's decision to pull "The Hunt" — a horror satire in which wealthy elitists hunt so-called "deplorables" for sport — after the film was attacked by conservatives including President Donald Trump.

Universal's decision was made after Trump tweeted on Friday that "Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves 'Elite,' but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!"

Fox News both complained about the release of the movie and celebrated its failure to launch.

"Cancelation of ‘The Hunt’ is a victory for gun-toting, Bible-clinging patriots," wrote Fox News' Todd Starnes. As Buzzfeed News reported, the network mounted a concerted campaign against the film:

On Fox & Friends on Thursday, the movie was introduced as "a new movie about killing 'deplorables' — some calling it 'evil' and 'demented.'"

That night, Fox Business host and Trump supporter Lou Dobbs called it a "sick, twisted new movie," adding that the idea of "globalist elites hunting deplorables sounds a little too real.”

Dan Bongino, filling in for Sean Hannity on Friday night, also told viewers, "the Hollywood hate machine appears to be taking its anti-Trump derangement syndrome to disturbing new levels."

On Saturday morning, prior to the movie's release being scrapped, the weekend hosts of Fox & Friends again discussed the film. "How did a film like this even get made?" asked host Dean Cain.

In a statement on Saturday, the studio explained that "while Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film. We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

There was considerable backlash on Twitter against Universal's decision.

"So The Hunt is pulled from its US cinema release because people are sensitive to gun violence ... yet any adult can still buy a military grade semi-automatic rifle... While I commend Universal and Blumhouse for their humanity. This is not the solution." Academy Award winning actor Russell Crowe tweeted.

Actor and musician Ish Morris expressed a similar thought, tweeting that "so they cancel the The Hunt film release cuz of gun violence in the US, but don't cancel the actual guns? Kk cool. Makes sense...."

Rachel Leishman, an associate editor at The Mary Sue, tweeted that "While the Hunt got canceled, it’s very clear that Trump has never read The Most Dangerous Game."

In response to a tweet by evangelist Franklin Graham denouncing "The Hunt," film critic Mike McGranaghan observed that it's "probably a good time to point out that no one (including critics) has actually seen THE HUNT yet, so we have no idea whether it's politically charged or, if it is, what the politics are. This is a lame attempt to continue fanning the flames of an already sadly divided nation."

Scott Mendelson, a senior contributor at Forbes who covers entertainment financial news, described the cancellation of "The Hunt" as "Morally Indefensible And Financially Unavoidable" in his headline. After describing the various financial reasons why Universal may have pulled the film after the 2014 controversy surrounding another politically charged movie, "The Interview," he described the possible moral implications of the studio's decision.

If Universal pulled the film out of "sensitivity," then it's still a scenario where society is apparently more comfortable with Hollywood pulling or delaying movies (Phone Booth) and TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Graduation Day part II") featuring gun violence than they are in crafting laws to lessen real-life gun violence. If they pulled the film after it got targeted by the President of the United States, either on a whim after the movie was referenced on Fox and Friends, or as a political strategy to distract from a debate over actual gun control (or distract from the Trump-like rhetoric espoused by at least one of the shooters), that's close to government censorship.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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